22 July 2010

Growing the Church

Last fall an acquaintance challenged me to clarify how we measure church growth. The accusation of invalidity stung.

I asked The Grandfather, seminary educated, retired pastor, what a church-go-er meant by “growth”.

It means numbers, bodies filling pews, The Grandfather replies. They may say that growth is spiritual but on paper, on the books, you cannot calculate on holiness, it’s a number crunching business.

Hmm, that’s what I thought.

Numbers mean denominational support, financial success, “growth”. This idea is not coming from a cranky, ex-member of big church, it comes from a retired pastor who now at 93 recognizes the organized church was reading the word ‘pastor’ with the incorrect job description. That ‘pastor’ is no higher an authority than evangelist or prophet or teacher. It’s just another gifting, that can be as humbly and privately an executed service as any of the others.

Our family has not attended an organized, hierarchal church since 2005.  We then found ourselves in what we once called “house church”, but even that gradually looked like conventional church in a living room; just replace pastor with elder. It had a liturgy of its own. We made it. More than 1500 years of corporate church is hard to pluck from the DNA in 5.

It’s hard work but we live and breathe it.

This is harder than sitting in a pew and belonging to a few committees, sitting on the board of trustees, directing youth group, running the soundboard, teaching Sunday school, singing on worship team, all at the same time. Amazin’, ain’t it? We all dedicated our spare time (and not so spare time) to the “work of the Lord”. At least there, we could schedule church for the most part- cover vacations, maternity leave, counseling sessions, golf tournaments.

Then in the quiet of a fellow Christian’s living room for “house church”, slowly (so slowly in fact, we didn’t immediately identify how profoundly) we began to see that living Christ was still more. Finding ourselves meeting with believers, we would share the wine and the bread. Hunger and thirst satisfied- body and soul. Upon a recent reunion with friends of twenty-plus years, who too, desired a community focused on being church, we began to share the cup and bread with this dear family. Understanding the power of communion intensifies the bond shared between believers over a love feast, the irreplaceable kindness that work gloves and sweat binds together in strengthening the brethren, the body of Christ. Together we go into the market place, or the street, we pray with, we minister to, the public as we meet them, as the Holy Spirit leads, without pretense and manufacture. Now that’s special!

In our circle of fellowship, we have those gifted in faith, discernments, mercy, and generosity. Teachers teach, evangelists reach and prophets prophesy. Not all gifts are used every time we gather. And because different members meet up randomly with each other throughout the week, they may exercise any of the gifts afore mentioned.

Growth is then measured by the manifestation of the character of Christ that is so evident in the lives we are all called to tend and shepherd around us.

Did ya catch that? I'll say it again.

Growth is the outward evidence that Christ lives within and we foster this in one another.

The Grandfather shakes his head doubtfully at obtaining more education, acquiring accreditation and recognized position; just more obstacles betwixt Maker and man. The pridefulness of intellectual achievement, smarts so to say, get in the way. The human race pedestalizes those with education, and perceived authority.

Living Christ is the air we breathe.  Neither credentials nor diplomas move God to respect any person, rather a heart submitted to Him.